Federal agents are looking into whether remains found near a road construction site south of Toppenish are those of two California men reported missing in June 2019.

FBI spokesman Steve Bernd said the bureau is waiting for positive identification, but “we are actively investigating the possibility that the remains found are those of Josiah Hilderbrand and Jon Cleary.”

A road crew working on U.S. Highway 97 about 10 miles south of Toppenish found what turned out to be human remains, Berndt said. The FBI and Yakima County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene.

Contractors were milling the road before putting down chip seal when someone spotted something that looked questionable, said state Department of Transportation spokeswoman Summer Derrey. The worker called over a WSDOT inspector, and they called 911 and secured the scene, Derrey said.

Relatives offered a $25,000 reward for information on the men, while the FBI said it would pay up to $10,000 for information in the case.

Hilderbrand, 25 when he went missing, and fellow Grateful Dead fan and friend Jon Cleary, who was 47, are believed to have disappeared sometime on June 7, 2019. They were last seen in a light blue 2004 Honda Civic Hybrid en route to a show at the Gorge Amphitheatre featuring the Dead & Company, a band with former members of the Grateful Dead.

It’s been an emotionally exhausting time for their families, who offered brief comments as they await identification of the remains.

“Our family is grateful for all of the community support during these last 14 months and we will share a full statement once the identities have been 100% confirmed,” said Cleary’s sister, Jessica Wesner of Smyrna, Tenn.

Josiah’s mother, Liz Hilderbrand of Piercy, Calif., posts often about her only son on her personal Facebook page and the Help Bring Josiah Home page. She is “relieved and grateful” that his remains have potentially been found, she said, pending official confirmation.

Yakima County Chief Deputy Coroner Marshall Slight said the office is using dental records to identify the remains.

On June 8, 2019, the men’s car was found abandoned and partially burned in an orchard at 8100 Lateral B Road, roughly 8½ miles west of Toppenish. It was the same day that five people were brutally killed in White Swan.

Authorities have declined to comment on whether the two crimes are related.

This story was updated to correct the spelling on FBI spokesman Steve Bernd's name.

Reach Donald W. Meyers at dmeyers@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: donaldwmeyers, or https://www.facebook.com/donaldwmeyersjournalist.

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